"Listen well, you all! The princess will indeed grow in grace and beauty. But before the sunset on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle of a spinning wheel, and she will fall into a sleep like death!"
Maleficent isn't a masterpiece and it actually has several flaws, but it was much better than I had anticipated considering the latest failed attempts at bringing a beloved classic fairytale to the big screen through live action. Snow White, Jack the Giant Slayer, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, all failed in their adaptations so I didn't have high expectations for Maleficent. They all seem to share something in common which is that they always incorporate a spin on the classic tale, and Maleficent is no exception as there is a big twist to the familiar story. They played it safe with the twist in Maleficent, and it was rather cliche, but it worked nonetheless. Despite not being a huge fan of this genre I decided to give this film a shot because I was looking forward to Angelina Jolie's comeback (her previous starring role in a feature film was in 2010's The Tourist alongside Johnny Depp). Jolie doesn't disappoint and she carries the entire film giving a strong performance. Many complained that they wished the film would've centered more on her character as a villain than a hero, but I actually enjoyed the duality in her performance and the struggle she faces while dealing with her betrayal. She owns this movie, but it didn't hurt that the she had a strong cast to work with; I loved Elle Fanning in her role as Aurora, Sharlto Copley as the ambitious King (if there was ever a film in which he could go overboard with his character this was it, but strangely he played it safe here), and of course I can't leave out Sam Riley who was great as Diaval. Perhaps I enjoyed this film more than others because I went into it with fairly low expectations, but compared to other recent fairytale adaptations this film is superior and one I'm sure the new generation will appreciate.
Maleficent is a retelling of Disney's classic animated film, Sleeping Beauty, although this time the screenplay written by Linda Woolverton centers on the villain. The film begins by introducing us to the young fairy named Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) living an ideal and peaceful life in the Moors, which is full of magical creatures. On the other side of the Moors lies the human kingdom which is ruled by an ambitious King. One day Maleficent is warned by the forest guards that they have caught a human trying to steal a jewel from the Moors. Maleficent discovers that the thief is actually a boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins), who she kindly asks to return the jewel. She then escorts him out of the Moors, but when he returns the two bond and become good friends. As time passes the two fall in love, but their relationship doesn't last long once he becomes ambitious. The film jumps forward many years and now we follow the adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) as she continues to protect the Moors from King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) and his army. The adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) happens to be serving the King now, and he and his men are ordered to kill Maleficent. Whoever does so will become his successor to the throne. Stefan heads to the Moors to warn Maleficent of the king's intention, but blinded by his ambition to become king he betrays her. This turns Maleficent's once pure heart into one full of hate and a desire for revenge. When Stefan becomes King, Maleficent curses his newborn infant Aurora and claims she will fall into a sleep like death once she turns 16 and only a true love's kiss will be able to break the curse.
The best thing Maleficent has going for it apart from Angelina Jolie's lead performance and the strong ensemble cast, is the fact that it was directed by Robert Stromberg who has a strong record as a production designer. Despite the fact that this was Stromberg's first feature film he has a lot of experience in the art direction department (actually winning two Oscars for his work in Acatar and Alice in Wonderland). Maleficent looks great and the art direction may be it's best asset. The visual effects and the fantastical creatures of the Moors are stunning. The screenplay may have its flaws and the story may fall into a predictable and cliched final act, but it always looks great. This may be yet another case of style over substance, but the cast elevate the material and make this a much better film than it has any right to be. The weakest elements of the film for me involve the portrayal of the three fairies who are tasked with taking care of Aurora and raising her. Those comedic moments felt a bit forced and the characters didn't have much substance to them. However, the scenes that Maleficent and Aurora share together are solid as Jolie captures the inner struggle she faces when she's confronted by Aurora's innocence and beauty. Sam Riley also shares some great scenes alongside Jolie and those were the best moments of the film for me. The film does suffer from a slow introduction and a weak final act, but the middle act was really strong and that is why I actually enjoyed Maleficent.